A physician, who is confronted with emergent circumstances and provides life-sustaining treatment to a minor child, is not liable for not first obtaining consent from the parents. Providing treatment to a child under emergent circumstances does not imply consent to treatment despite actual notice of refusal to consent. Rather, it is an exception to the general rule that a physician commits a battery by providing medical treatment without consent. As such, the exception is narrowly circumscribed and arises only in emergent circumstances when there is no time to consult the parents, or seek court intervention if the parents withhold consent, before death is likely to result to the child. Though in situations of this character, the physician should attempt to secure parental consent if possible, the physician will not be liable under a battery or negligence theory solely for proceeding with the treatment absent consent.
Parents filed suit against a hospital and the hospital's corporate entity alleging battery and negligence claims for the resuscitation and treatment of their very prematurely born infant. The jury found for the parents. On appeal, the Texas Court of Appeals for the 14th District reversed. The parents appealed argueing that the court of appeals erred because they did not consent to treatment of the infant.
Should a hospital be held liable for the immediate treatment of the infant without getting the consent of the parents?
The supreme court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals. The time for evaluating the infant was when she was born and the infant was born alive but in distress. At that time, the doctor had to make a spilt-second decision on whether to provide life-sustaining treatment. While the parents were both present in the delivery room, there was simply no time to obtain their consent to treatment or to institute legal proceedings to challenge their withholding of consent. Thus, the doctor was faced with emergent circumstances when he treated the infant. Those circumstances resulted from not being able to evaluate the infant until she was born, not because of any delay or inaction by the hospital. Providing treatment to the infant under emergent circumstances did not imply consent to treatment despite actual notice of refusal to consent. Therefore, the hospital was not liable under a battery or negligence theory solely for proceeding with the treatment absent consent.